As the new president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED), Lee Crume is knocking down walls, figuratively and literally.

The Ohio transplant has kicked off his tenure not by compiling a list of potential businesses to approach, but by looking inward. He is taking a close look at the organization’s relationships with community partners and its internal operations, examining accounting policies, human resources, hiring practices and even the layout of the office. Walls will come down.

Founded in 1987, Tri-ED has played a pivotal role in growing the business climate in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. To date, the organization has led the successful relocation or expansion of 670 business projects. These projects created more than 67,000 jobs with a capital investment of more than $8.4 billion. Much of that growth came under the leadership of Dan Tobergte, who served Tri-ED in an executive role for 28 years, the last 13 as president/CEO. He resigned in August 2018, spurring an intensive national search for his replacement.

“A little different from the Northern Kentucky Tri-ED I’m inheriting, I want us to be a more visible and vocal community partner,” Crume says. “This was a very successful company for a long time. We have an opportunity to restart it, to rebuild it for the next iteration. It is all looking forward for us at this point.”

Crume comes to the position with more than 25 years of economic development experience, most recently as the global director of business development for JobsOhio, a Columbus-based nonprofit developed to drive job creation and new capital investment. That experience was the lynchpin in securing the search committee’s and the Tri-ED board’s approval.

“Lee possesses both private and public experience in the economic development field. His economic development experience with JobsOhio was a key factor in his final selection,” says Gary Moore, Boone County judge-executive and Tri-ED board member, who has high expectations for the organization under Crume’s guidance. “In Boone County we expect to see an increase in the number of workers, but we must also experience an increase in wages and the quality of the jobs that will be created. The capital investment made by our companies should also increase. In addition to these indicators Tri-ED should be a catalyst to the economic growth of Northern Kentucky as a whole.”

Revamping the organization has kept Crume busy since his arrival in April. His first 60 days were filled with more than 80 meetings and personal appearances in a quest to both learn about Northern Kentucky, its needs and its resources, and to introduce his strategy for a new and improved Tri-ED.

“Thinking tactical to strategic, we have to build an operating company that is Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, which is what we are doing today. I want to make sure from April 2019 to this time next year that we have a competent, capable team in place who can execute on our two primary initiatives, which are economic development and entrepreneurship,” Crume says, noting that he intends to hire additional staff to round out his existing team.

“Secondly, we are working with our partners to present the strategy for this community over the next five to 10 years that says, ‘Here is how we want this community to look different 10 years from now.’ When we have that done, we want to be definitive about what goals inside of that plan Northern Kentucky Tri-ED owns and how we are going to support our community partners on their goals. And then, of course on top of that work, we are operating two business objectives—economic development and entrepreneurship. We want to make sure we are posting wins and putting up results in those spaces.”

While topics like population growth, the urban core and increased educational opportunities don’t fall under the scope of Tri-ED, they are topics that are vital to companies choosing to stay in or relocate to Northern Kentucky and, therefore, ones that Crume wants the organization to help strengthen. Tri-ED cannot work in a vacuum to grow the economy, he says; it will take the collaboration of many to develop the meaningful goals to bring jobs to the community.

And so he meets with people—city leaders, local civic organizations, government officials, existing business owners and executives—to connect with them, determine their needs and discover what resources they have to offer. It is a crash course in Northern Kentucky that hasn’t left much time for enjoying all that the area has to offer on a personal level, something he hopes to change very soon.

And though he is still finding his way around Northern Kentucky, he isn’t new to the state. The Commonwealth native was born in Bowling Green and raised in Owensboro.

A stuffed Big Red, the Western Kentucky mascot, sits nestled on a table in his office among the Northern Kentucky memorabilia he was gifted upon his arrival. He is a proud Hilltopper who earned two degrees from the school, a master’s degree in communication and bachelor’s degree in corporate and organizational communication.

“My family came to Kentucky when it was still called Virginia,” he jokes. “We have Kentucky going back very long way in our blood.”

He is proud of his strong Kentucky roots, and was sure to mention them during the interview process. And though a Kentucky connection was not required for the job, it didn’t hurt to already have an appreciation for the state and all it has to offer.

“It’s not critical but it is a benefit. He has operated outside the region, but he has roots in this state,” says Kenton County Judge-Executive and Tri-ED Board Member Kris Knochelman of Crume’s Kentucky roots. “Lee will need to bring his national experience and help us to direct our energies to long-term success. Employee growth, business retention, entrepreneurial successes and workforce solutions will be evaluated annually and that will mark his success.”

While Crume can already expound on the many positive attributes of Northern Kentucky, and the Tristate as a whole—proximity to most of the country, local arts, professional sports, strong business community, good schools, highways—he has also been in this business long enough to know that luring businesses to an area isn’t about selling them on Northern Kentucky but proving to them that the solution to their business challenges can be found here and that a wealth of additional assets can be found nearby.

“Each of our clients, just like every other purchasing decision that gets made, has a different set of requirements, so what we really endeavor to do is build a mindset at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED like we are a professional services company helping each of our clients solve their issues,” he says. “Our challenge is to get inside their heads and understand their needs. The beauty of Northern Kentucky is that we do have all of those attributes that could come into play for a client, whether it is access to industries, access to supplies or access to infrastructure.”

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